While most federal workers are probably happy-to-overjoyed at the prospect of a hassle free, January pay raise, workers at the top of the GS-15 scale are not! And they have a good reason for not breaking out the champagne because of the pay ceiling which limits the top salary in the top grade, to $172,500.
Each time there has been a pay raise in the past, more and more workers, in an increasing number of cities, have had no pay raises, or only partial increases because of the pay cap. The ceiling or cap affects more and more workers each time there is an increase for rank-and-file employees.
And because of the pay cap, more and more workers in more steps of the GS-15 pay grade are being left out of pay raises.
Whether the 2022 raise is 2.7% as proposed by the White House, or 3.2% as proposed by House Democrats, thousands of workers at the GS-15 level, from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Los Angeles and New York City, might not get any increase. Some have been frozen at the top of their pay scale for years. Many are being paid thousands of dollars per year less than called for by their grade. In addition to affecting their take-home pay now, it also will have a major impact on their retirement annuity, which is based on length-of-service and salary. And the problem, once confined to high wage locality rates, is now starting to threaten the pay of workers in lower wage cities.
Because GS pay can’t exceed $172,500, many at the middle to upper steps of GS-15 won’t be getting the projected pay raises. Some that do will get only a portion of the 2022 adjustment. Unless Congress raises that ceiling by increasing executive level pay.
The biggest group of capped GS-15 workers are in the D.C. metro area. Here the cap covers steps 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the GS scale. The same applies to Philadelphia, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Dallas. While the metro region has the most feds, and the most GS-15s, the pay scale here is lower than New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and a number of other cities. But the ceiling impacts the most people in the D.C. locality because it is the headquarters for most agencies and departments, hence the most high grade workers.
GS-15 feds in the San Francisco/San Jose area are hardest hit by the $172,500 cap. That covers pay area civil servants in steps 5,6,7,8,9 and 10. Nobody can make more than $172,500 in any of those steps.
In the New York City local pay area, the ceiling extends down to step 6. In Chicago steps 8, 9 and 10 bump up against the ceiling. In Denver the pay cap hits steps 8, 9 and 10.
The pay cap was once confined to feds in big, high cost cities. But with each pay raise for white collar federal workers, the ceiling gets lower. Soon it will impact GS-15 workers in Huntsville, Alabama — a major federal center — where top GS-15 pay is now $172,102. Unless the ceiling is raised, feds in Huntsville, Columbus, Richmond, Lorado and many other locality pay areas will get partial or zero raises.
Greg Stanford, of the Federal Managers Association, says he heard from members across the country who are at or closing in on the pay ceiling. Here’s what he had to say:
I don’t have hard numbers on how many people are capped right now, or how many are about to hit that ceiling.
While federal employees in areas such as San Francisco, New York City, and Washington D.C. have been impacted for many years, employees in North Carolina, Georgia, Oregon and elsewhere across the country are feeling the effects as well, and the problem grows every year. This issue can and will play a role in recruitment and retention to the federal workforce, which already has hiring issues. If an employee is offered a promotion at a higher level, with more responsibilities, but no corresponding salary increase, will they take on the new role? Technology employees who are now capped may be tempted to leave the government for the private sector, where there is no pay cap. The time is now to address the problem, before it grows exponentially.
So what’s the pay situation where you live and work? How far down is the cap compressed pay? And how does your salary compare to someone doing the exact same job at the same grade level elsewhere? For the official picture, click here.
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